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Disputed Bills Threaten to Paralyze Parliament Again

Posted February. 12, 2009 07:48,   


The National Assembly`s extra session this month is on the brink of suspension, as the ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party have failed to narrow differences over contentious bills.

The Democratic Party is using delay tactics by refusing to handle bills at standing committee sessions, while its rival is cast adrift in failing to unite and muster up its strength.

The number of pending bills idle at standing committees is 2,230. It will be almost physically impossible to pass them all in the plenary sessions set for Feb. 27 and March 3 even if legislators bring up and review them at every standing committee from Feb. 20.

Lawmakers within the ruling party have also begun to doubt whether major bills that their party supports can be dealt in this session. Despite President Lee Myung-bak’s demand for prompt action, parliament is rather slowing down.

○ Paralyzed standing committees

Parliamentary standing committees that are supposed to deliberate bills first have been rendered useless. Those where controversial bills remain pending or will be introduced are paralyzed without the ability to fine-tune the schedules of the proceedings.

In spite of the ruling party’s request, the Democratic Party has refused to deliberate on contentious bills until Thursday next week. Experts here say that the opposition party is deliberately stonewalling as much as it can to prevent them from passing.

Even before the opening of the extraordinary session, the Grand National Party promised to open standing committees every day unless there is an urgent hearing or parliamentary interpellation session. The ruling party, however, is powerless in the face of its rival’s delay tactics. Many analysts say this illustrates the ruling party’s lack of will to push through its agenda.

The Democratic Party is blocking the review of key bills at the Culture, Sports, Tourism, Broadcasting and Communications Committee, which handles media law, the focal point of the opposition party’s objections. The ruling party is holding public hearings and discussions alone without being able to persuade opposition parties to participate in them. The upcoming plenary session Friday next week will likely handle only non-contentious bills that have already been reviewed.

○ Buying time

Whether or not standing committees operate in full swing from late next week, the main opposition party will use filibuster tactics. It plans to extend the debate by doing as much as possible to delay progress. The party believes it can block the passage of bills if the National Assembly fails to pass them at the ad hoc session this month, given that it has a chance to secure more parliamentary seats in the April by-elections.

The Public Administration and Security Committee also has to handle controversial bills, such as those on banning protesters from wearing masks and retrieving subsidies from organizations involved in illegal demonstrations. The committee will not open a meeting until Thursday next week, however, when the confirmation hearing for Public Administration and Security Minister-designate Lee Dal-gon is scheduled. It will discuss whether to bring up contentious bills for discussion at the plenary session Friday next week.

The leaders of the ruling and opposition parties have also ignored part of parliamentary proceedings as agreed by the chief negotiators of the standing committees of both parties.

The two parties’ chief negotiators at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee agreed to a general meeting Monday, but this was called off by Democratic Party leaders. This hampered the deliberation of the Act on the Prevention of Badgering Laws and the Protection of the Communications Secrets Act, which restrictively allows the tapping of cell phones.

The Education, Science and Technology Committee, which has to handle a contentious revised bill on the Primary and Middle School Education Act, might not even handle a single bill this month due to the main opposition party’s unwillingness to cooperate.

By contrast, the National Policy Committee, which has to handle bills on the equity investment ceiling system and the separation of financial and industrial capital, is cruising along without a major hitch. The chief negotiators of the two parties in the committee have agreed on the schedule for upcoming discussions. The committee is also holding public hearings.

It is unclear, however, if the two bills can pass the standing committee since the Democratic Party is against the passage of contentious bills.

Still, certain pundits say the main opposition party could participate in the handling of pending bills from Friday next week due to mounting public criticism over parliament’s suspension.

○ Ruling party running out of time

If the Democratic Party keeps refusing the deliberation of legislation and unless the ruling party railroads bills through parliament, it will be practically impossible to pass them at this parliamentary session.

“If you look at the agreed deliberation schedules for each standing committee, one or two days are scheduled for the subcommittee on bill deliberation. If the Democratic Party refuses to agree on them for this reason or others, it will be physically challenging to pass them in the February extraordinary session,” said Kwon Kyung-seok of the Public Administration and Security Committee.

National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o has also expressed his fears over the stalemate. If the ruling and opposition parties cannot agree on contentious bills, he could directly present them for voting unlike in last year’s extraordinary session.

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